This quarter’s selection

Issue: 142

The latest New Left Review (II/85) starts off with the worthy aim of exploring the social roots of recent resistance movements from Occupy to the Turkish and Brazilian protests of June last year. But a piece by the sociologist Göran Therborn is uncharacteristically thin, with nothing resembling an empirical analysis of social and economic trends. He dismisses “the residual industrial working class in the North” as “too weak to pose any anti-capitalist challenge” and concludes that: “any viable critique of twenty-first century capitalism will have to enlist a major portion of the middle class, by addressing some of its core concerns and seeking to articulate them in a critical, egalitarian direction.” Plainly we have some strategic rethinking to do, but it should be based on stronger foundations than this.

Perry Anderson is more stimulating elsewhere in the same issue with a fine portrait of the radical Anglo-Irish journalist Alexander Cockburn, for many years a thorn in the side of American imperialism, latterly as co-editor of CounterPunch. Anderson conveys how silly the charges of anti-Americanism were against someone like Cockburn, who lived in the United States from the mid-1970s till his death in 2012, producing CounterPunch from rural northern California.

“As the panorama of power and its fauna became ever more repellent, Alexander’s attachment to the physical and human landscape of America became, if anything, even stronger,” Anderson writes. Cockburn’s identification with grassroots American radicalism helped to ground him, though Anderson argues that he remained “at once a libertarian and a Leninist. In his make-up, the balance between the two could shift—a libertarian Leninist at the beginning, was he closer to a Leninist libertarian at the end?—but their delicate interplay marked him throughout.”

The current issue of Historical Materialism (21.4) is dominated by a symposium on an important collection of essays by Jairus Banaji, Theory as History. The contributions—for example, by the distinguished Marxist historian of Byzantium John Haldon—are interesting, although the intellectual current known as “Political Marxism”, which has an eccentrically narrow conception of capitalism, probably receives too much attention. Tony Smith has a good article in the same issue on the famous “Fragment on Machines” in Marx’s _Grundrisse. The references that Marx makes here to the “general intellect” have generated a vast amount of waffle. Smith takes the passages seriously, but his treatment is distinguished by a firm grasp of Marx’s value theory and of the structure of contemporary capitalism.

The current issue of the International Journal of Management Concepts and Philosophy contains an interesting contribution to debates on the capitalist crisis by Mexican economist Sergio Cámara Izquierdo. His paper “The Role of Long and Short-Term Dynamics of the US rate of Profit in the Current Crisis” suggests that capitalist accumulation continues to be characterised by structural failures of profitability and accumulation. Izquierdo concludes that low levels of profitability and the neoliberal inhibition of productive investment constitute the structural context of the current crisis.

The last two issues of Monthly Review (February and March) have featured articles in memory of Hugo Chavez. In one such feature in the February issue István Mészáros traces the history of the “International” in Marxist practice beginning with the short-lived Communist League founded by Marx and Engels in 1847. Mészáros argues that an international perspective is now absolutely essential but that capitalism, through its own destructive form of internationalism, has “left no terrains remaining to invade or subdue on our limited planet”. This radically changes the terrain on which an international might operate.

The winter issue of Radical History Review features a fascinating account by Courtney Fullilove of the New York City flour riot of 1837—where a crowd of thousands stormed a flour merchants destroying barrels and leaving the surrounding streets two foot deep in flour (some of which was carried away by local women in their aprons). Rather than simply being the action of a “rowdy lot” of drunks and “ignorant labourers” the riot raised genuine concerns about the operation of commodity markets. And this was at a time when price fixing rather than physical shortages was playing an increasing role in pricing the poor out of basic goods. Fullilove argues that this historical example can help us better understand the food riots that continue into the 21st century.

The next issue of Irish Marxist Review (number 9) had yet to come out as we were going to press. Look out for articles by Greek activist Nikos Loudos on the rise of Golden Dawn and Kieran Allen on the precariat.